Sunday, 28 February 2010

Blog Relocation

Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

As of February 28th 2009, this blog has relocated to:

Please reconfigure your blog readers, rss feeds, and services such as feedblitz to visit the new location instead.

Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Recently I helped out my studio partner, Ralph Lemarechal of, with a project to create some high fashion images of some of Marlies Dekkers' latest lingerie, together with an exclusive (and very expensive) Francois Noel black lace wedding dress. Ralph had managed to get permission to do the shoot at the Harley Davidson dealership in Amsterdam, Harley World, and had lined up a custom Harley for his model Maike to sit on.

Ralph's original plan had been to shoot the bike on location outside, but unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side, so we ended up spending the day inside. The team at Harley World were very receptive to our needs though, and let us set up a full mobile studio in the space upstairs.

I was just assisting Ralph so wasn't actively shooting, but did manage to snap a couple of backstage photos from the day. I'm sure Ralph will post some of his finished photos on his blog once he has worked on them.

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Since Harley World stores most of their bikes downstairs, and usually uses the upstairs as a cafe or meeting place, the first thing we had to do was get the bike upstairs. Luckily the guys from HW were on hand to help us, and within a few minutes the bike was lifted up with a fork lift and in position.

The bike itself was pretty impressive, as you can see from the image below - I used HDR to bring out some of the details in the bike. Unfortunately the background was not so great, but hopefully it would be possible to improve upon that with careful lighting and careful post processing.

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Our stylist for the day, Monica from Styling Amsterdam, was the first to try out the bike for size :)

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

We brought the Elinchrom heads with us from the studio, and set the light up with the large Octabox on one side, and the Deep Octa on the other. We also had a wind machine to give some movement to the model's hair.

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

The first shoot of the day was with our model wearing the black wedding dress, and as Monica made sure the dress was fitted correctly, Pieter from Mushota hair and make-up did some final alterations to the hair.

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

The dress itself had a long lace train, and flowed over the back of the bike, giving an opportunity for some nice shots. We set the lights up crossing over so that the large octa would be lighting up the bike, with the deep octa providing the light for the model's face

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Pieter did a great job with the make-up, and was always on hand to make any necessary adjustments.

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Once Ralph had finished shooting the dress, Maike changed into the Marlies Dekkers lingerie, and the shoot continued

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Backstage at Harley Davidson/Marlies Dekkers photoshoot with Ralph Lemarechal

Ralph had assembled a great team for the day, and the shoot was a lot of fun. Although we weren't able to achieve all we wanted, it was definitely a good project to be involved with. Maybe again in the summer? :)

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Gear Review: Comparing the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR to the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR

A question that comes up often on various Nikon oriented internet forums is which lens is more suitable, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR, or the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR? Obviously this is a very loaded question, as it depends what the photographer is intending to use the lens for, but I will use this blog post to try and answer the question from my experience with these lenses, which is predominantly nature based. This is not intended to be a technical review, simply comments based upon my own experiences.

I have owned the 200-400/4VR for 3 or 4 years now, and earlier this year picked up the 300/2.8VR as well. I use both lenses on the D3, and have previously used the 200-400 and the 300 on the D200.

Of course, being a zoom, the 200-400 wins here. On DX, the effective focal range of 300-600mm means the 200-400mm is a very effective lens for using for general nature photography, and I used it with success on a number of field trips over the past couple of years. Perhaps the time I was most thankful for the lens was when I took it with me on a safari in Africa. One of the main 'problems' with safari photography in Africa is the amount of dust that finds its way into the camera. This is further amplified by lens changes, so the ideal solution is to have a single lens that covers all eventualities. I found the 200-400mm to be just this, and it was pretty much the only lens I needed to use when shooting out of the safari jeep:


I also took the lens with me on a trip to photograph puffins in Scotland and Northern England, and again the 200-400 on a DX body came into its own, allowing me to shoot birds all day without switching lenses.

Bird with Sand Eels, Staple Island

The flexibility that the 300/2.8 offers is slightly different. Although hand held shooting is not too much of a problem with the 200-400, the lens does tend to get heavy after a while. The 300/2.8 is a slightly smaller and more lightweight lens, and the ergonomics mean that walking around with it in the hand or on the shoulder is comfortable, and can be used for an extended period of time, such as in the shot below where I had been tracking the deer through the woods for some time.

Roe Deer Doe<

Especially since turning to full format, I have been using my telephoto lenses more and more often with teleconverters. This is an advantage of the fixed aperture pro telephotos that do allow the use of teleconverters whilst maintaining all functionality.

However it is with teleconverters that the 300/2.8 has advantages. It is a full stop faster than the 200-400, which means that the light loss caused by the tc-14e and 17e still leaves the photographer with a usable combination - either a 420/4 or a 510/4.8. This should really be compared to the 200-400 together with the 1.4, which, at the top end, becomes a 560/5.6.

With the tc-14e:

Both lenses work fine with this tc, but the focus on the 200-400 does seem to suffer slightly in terms of speed, especially in duller light. In good light the image quality on the 200-400 is fine, but in slightly worse light, the 300mm with tc leaves the 200-400 behind. The following shot was taken with the 300mm on a D200 with the tc-14e, in early morning, overcast light:

High Fives anyone?

With the tc-17e:

The 200-400 works, but has occasional AF problems, and can not be trusted in low light. The 300/2.8 works fine, and AF is still spot on. Image quality wise, the 300 beats the 200-400 here.


Both lenses offer the build quality and usability of every Nikon pro lens. Most switches (for example focus limiters AF on/off) are in the same place on each lens. One notable difference between the two is that with the 300/2.8 the VR is turned on using a ring, whereas the VR on the 200-400 is activated by a switch alongside the other switches. From experience this is a lot harder to see, and a lot easier to knock on and off without noticing.

Image quality:

Both lenses are capable of excellent quality images, both with and without teleconverters. However I have always had a bit of a love hate relationship with the 200-400. I sometimes get the feeling that it really is a good weather lens - if the light is a bit grey and dreary, the 200-400 will amplify that and I will come away with unsatisfying images. The 300/2.8 on the other hand never fails to impress me. Even in lower light, I can still get spot on focus, and sharp contrasty images, such as the following image taken from a boat.

Sea Eagle


To be honest, if I had to sell one of the two lenses, I would keep the 300/2.8, and sell the 200-400. Although the 300 isn't a zoom, what it lacks in flexibility, it makes up for in speed and image quality, and with the teleconverters it is almost as flexible. Especially when paired with the 600/4, it provides the wildlife photographer with an excellent tool set. But remember, both are pro quality lenses, and I am just picking faults. Either lens is capable of top images.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Gear Review: Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens

30 or so months ago I wrote a blog reviewing the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D prime lens. When I wrote the article I was still shooting with a DX crop body, and I summised that the 50mm on a DX body was a great portrait lens, and ideal for use at live gigs.

Now I've moved full format with the D3, the 85mm f/1.4D has become my weapon of choice for gig photography, and I find the 24-70mm invariable for using in the studio due to the flexibility of the zoom.

Still, I maintain that the 50mm is an ideal focal length for the above type of photography on a crop body. For a while there was a bit of a gap in the Nikon lens lineup though, as some of the newer crop bodies (like the D60 and most of the newer entry level SLRs) are unable to autofocus with the lenses that don't contain a focus motor, and require an AF-S lens for full functionality.

However, at Photokina in 2008 NIkon updated their prime lens range to also include the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens. Not only did this update the optical formula of the old 50mm f/1.4D lens, it also added an internal motor, making this an AF-S lens, and putting it within the reach of people starting out with the entry level SLR.

The main criticism that internet pundits had of the new 50/1.4 was the price - at around €350 at introduction (can be picked up for €300 now), it was almost three times the price of the 1.8 variety, and for only a slight improvement in light sensitivity, was thought to be a bit expensive.

It was this reason that also stopped me from picking up the 50/1.4 initially - after all, the 50/1,8 had never given me any problems, and with all the other lenses in my arsenal, I wasn't missing out on anything by not having it.

So, fast forward 12 months, with the imminent arrival of our baby, Tabatha (born October 18th 2009!), I'm thinking out my camera strategy :) The 24-70mm is a great general purpose lens on the D3, but it's big, wieldy, and pretty scary to a new born. Add to that the business travel I do, it's a lot easier to take a body and a couple of small primes (think 24mm, 50mm, and maybe either a 16mm fish or an 85mm) than a big zoom lens.

So I decide the 50mm will become my solution for quick, around the house, shooting, and to begin with, the 50/1.8 was working fine, and gave me fine results such as the following:

Tabatha Ayumi

But then, the NAS demons began playing in my head, and, on the way back from visiting hours at the hospital, I passed the camera store, and the rest, as they say, is history.......

Som how does the 50/1.4 compare to the 50/1.8? Well, to be honest, they are both very fine lenses. Both are small, light, and can be tucked away into a corner in a camera bag very easily. There are a couple of advantages of the 50/1.4 that I have noted:

- Firstly, the lens is provided with a lens hood. Although this is only a fairly lightweight plastic, it does provide protection should the lens get knocked or dropped. (of course a lens hood is also available for the 50/1.8, but this is extra cost)
- Next, it has an AF-S motor. With such a small lens, this doesn't help so much with focusing speed, but I have noticed a definite improvement over the amount of time it spends searching for the focus point in low light, compared to the 50/1.8. And of course this makes the lens compatible with some of the newer Nikon cameras
- Finally the lens has the advantage of going down to f/1.4, giving you that extra bit of flexibility when shooting in low light, as well as a nice bright viewfinder. To be honest I have probably spent most of the time shooting with this lens wide open, despite a fair number of people suggesting it is soft until it is stopped down a couple of shots (in fact all shots taken by the 50/1.4 in this blog entry were taken wide open at f/1.4, and I find results more than sharp enough)

Tabatha Ayumi

The 50/1.4 has a plastic lens body, the same as the 50/1.8, although I must say in defense of the 1.8, it does feel slightly more sturdy. It's a 58mm filter size compared to the 52mm on the 1.8, although I have not bothered mounting a filter on this lens, due to the protection the lens hood gives.

Tabatha Ayumi, 5 weeks old

This lens has been mounted on my camera pretty exclusively on the occasions when the D3 is sitting at home and I am not using it on a job. I've found it an ideal lens for (baby) snapshots, and it makes the D3 a lot less imposing than one of my larger pro lenses.

So, do I recommend this lens? That's a difficult one, as the 50/1.8 is such great value for money, so it really boils down to whether or not you need the extra lens speed, and the built in focusing motor. If you have the money, go for it! But if you already have the 50/1.8, you might want to think carefully about upgrading.....

Tabatha Ayumi

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Painting the Studio

Video showing the repainting of our studio in Amsterdam.

OK, so there is one thing that is more boring than watching paint dry - watching someone doing the painting in the first place. But I have a new video camera, so wanted to try a video blog out.

Promise to do some more interesting sessions in the future

Help me find the perfect camera messenger bag!

Like other photographers, I have plenty of camera bags, including the following great bags:

- LowePro Super Trekker AWII
- LowePro Photo Trekker AWII
- LowePro Slingshot 200 AW
- Lowepro Stealth Reporter D550 AW
- ThinkTank Airport International
- Billingham 206

However what I really miss, especially when travelling to and from my studio in Amsterdam, is a shoulder or messenger type bag that is big enough to take the following:

- Nikon D3
- Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
- Nikon 85mm f/1.4 (optional)
- Sony HDR-TG7 handycam (optional)
- Spare batteries, memory cards etc

Ideally it shouldn't look like a camera bag, and it should be soft, durable, padded and comfortable to carry. At the moment I am using a bag around 30x20cm (12x8") and probably 8cm deep. I typically carry the camera without the lens attached.

So far my studies have found the Tenba Messenger (maybe a bit too big), or the Domke F-803 Waxwear (probably a bit too small)

So if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Trip Report: Feldberger Seenlandschaft, East Germany

This blog is long overdue, but back in May I made a trip to Feldberger Seenlandschaft in East Germany with Patrick and Tom. We had found out about a Ranger living in former East Germany near the Polish border who has built a network of hides in various fields around Feldberger, and offers these out to photographers in the hope that they might go away with some satisfying images.

The plan was fairly simple, we would make the 8+ hour drive on the Wednesday, spend Thursday to Sunday in hides, and then drive back again on the Monday. Fred Bollmann would look after us during our stay, and be at our call to take us to and from various hides. We would stay at the Mecklenburger Hof, a small and basic hotel with friendly service and good prices, and they would feed us three meals a day, including packed lunch and breakfast.

On the evening of arrival Fred was very keen to explain all the possibilities he could offer. He told us that various hides would not be worth visiting at that time of the year, but in addition to the hides he could also offer us the possibility to go out on his boat and attempt to photograph a local Sea Eagle.

Of course, as with all nature photography, it is always the luck of the draw as to what you will see when you sit in a hide for any length of time, and I can attest to that, after spending 12 hours in a hide on two occassions, from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening, without seeing a single bird!

The hides themselves are well constructed, and have all the facilities you need in a modern hide (basically a window, a chair, and a bucket to relieve yourself in). Some of the hides are large enough for three people (which is an advantage when you have to sit there for 12 hours) whereas others are made for two people or even just one.


So in fact, out of three hide sessions we only had luck on one occassion, in a small hide where we witnessed a pair of buzzards eating a dead deer (Fred is well known in the community and receives all the local roadkill for his freezer). The buzzards landed fairly close to eat from the strategically placed deer, and in spite of our presence wearily pecked away at the corpse. The photos here were taken with the 600mm f/4G VR Nikkor on the Nikon D3


The highlight of the trip though was witnessing the Sea Eagle swooping in and picking up various fish from the lake near our boat. In the interests of full disclosure, the fish that were caught were thrown into the water by Fred, so we knew approximately where the eagle would be coming to, but nevertheless it was an impressive spectacle to see. The birds really do have 'eagle eyes', as he was able to see the fish landing in the water from a good 500 meters away, and slowly swooped and circled before catching his prey.

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

I took the above shots using the D3, with the 300mm f/2.8G VR lens attached. I used aperture priority to fix the aperture to f/5.6, and used the auto-iso feature to ensure the shutter speed stayed above 1/500s so to freeze the motion. Of course the lens was in the continuous AF mode. The high shutter rate of the D3 paid for itself here, capturing all of the above images in less than a second.

So although we didn't see all the birds that we had intended, it was still a successful trip - it's not every day you get to see a sea eagle capturing fish from the water. However in hindsight we were there at the wrong time of the year - in the spring there is plenty of prey for birds of prey to capture, and Fred's hides are much more densely visited when food is in short supply, for example in the winter months when there is snow on the ground.

Definitely a location I would recommend to other photographers looking for birds of prey images!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Off to Germany

Buzzard in a tree
Buzzard in a tree
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan
Today I am leaving for East Germany, near the Polish border. The plan is to return home with pictures of sea eagles, and other birds of prey.

I'll update the blog once I return!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Trip Report: Texel, April 2009

Last weekend I joined a group of photographers for a bird photography workshop on the Dutch island of Texel, hosted by Jeroen Stel. The trip was scheduled for three days, starting on the Friday morning, and we were blessed with good weather for the whole weekend. It was a good opportunity to do nothing but take photos for three days!

At this time of year there are plenty of birds to see on Texel, since a number of bird sorts congregate there to breed. So there was a lot of activity to see, albeit it often a little bit too far away to photograph easily. Although I took a pretty large arsenal of lenses along with me, I used the 600mm on the D3 most of the time, occasionally attaching the tc-14e teleconverter when I needed a little extra reach.

I have been to Texel a couple of times in the past, and have always ended up shooting at the Wagejot. I had hoped to find some alternative locations this trip, and although we shot in a lot of different places, it seems like Wagejot is still my prefered location; in fact all of the shots in this post, apart from the last one, were taken there.

Wagejot is a good location to find Avocet (kluut), Little Ringed Plover (kleine plevier), Curlew (wulp), Black and Bar Tailed Godwit (grutto/rose grutto) and Common Tern (visdiefje). We were most successful early in the morning as the light was appearing, as this is one of the most active periods of the day for the above birds.

Whilst shooting early in the morning the D3 again paid his way by delivering outstanding performance at high isos, necessary in order to maintain the high shutter speeds needed to freeze the bird activity.

You can view a selection of around 30 shots from this trip on my website by clicking here - it may take a couple of minutes for all images to load.....

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Deer at the Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen

Fallow Deer Buck
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

On Saturday I decided to 'discover' a new area and try and take some photos.

Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen (AWD) is one of the Netherland's largest dune areas, at around 3500 hectares (including 530 hectares of forest). The national park is located in between Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, and Noordwijk, and is mostly used as a water catchment area for the Amsterdam region. The area hosts a large variety of landscape, from fairly open to dense forest, and rich flora and fauna.

Although I have been to AWD once or twice in the past, I have always been with other people, and never come away with any pleasing results. This time I decided to go on my own, and see what I could find. It was also an opportunity for me to try out my new 300mm f/2.8G VR lens, so I decided to see if I could find some deer, since this would be a good target for a 300mm lens.

I arrived at AWD around 0930, which was already a bit too late for the good light, but after a hectic week I didn't feel like getting up too early. On arrival at the park I was disappointed to discover multiple groups of senior runners had descended on the park (I assume as part of some organised event, since they seemed to be split into groups of 20, all following their leader's instructions), so it was a bit hectic and not particularly 'quiet' inside. I felt this wasn't going to help my chances of finding deer, but nevertheless decided to persevere.

Roe Deer Doe
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

I had entered the park at the Oase entrance, and knew from my previous visits that there was a lot of dense woodland to the left of the main path. I started walking, and after about 25 minutes saw my first doe, just off the path. I carefully moved into the woodland area, taking care not to disturb any of the animals, and patiently waited behind a tree. Luckily I remained unnoticed by the deer, and was able to get a number of shots of the does, including the one in this post.

I stood and watched a small group of female deer from my position behind the tree for around 30 minutes until they were scared by a group of runners. They also managed to scare the remainder of the herd (around 50-70 animals, including some bucks) who had been grazing further into the forest, who ran past me, pausing every now and then, and I was able to get the buck shot at the start of this post.

For the remainder of the morning I wandered around the park, but didn't shoot too much, since the light by now was fairly harsh (and the runners were patrolling the park in packs) but I fully intend to go back and explore some more soon.

I was happy with my first experiences with the 300mm - it's a nice size to work with, and a lot more portable than dragging the 600mm around. The first shot in this post was taken together with the tc-14e teleconverter (Nikon D3, 420mm, f/4, 1/500s, iso400) and the second shot was bare (Nikon D3, 300mm, f/4, 1/500s, iso800). Both shots were taken using a monopod for support. I'll provide a full review of the 300VR once I have had some more experience using it.....